The Mental Habits of Innovation
We all know the myth of the sudden flash of insight that comes
from nowhere. It is that "aha" moment, or that light
bulb turning on in the mind. This is true to an extent. Einstein,
for example, really did get flashes of insight while shaving
in the morning. Of course, he was working on the particular problems
he had insight into. He didn't suddenly have ideas for new kitchen
gadgets or movie plots.
In other words, the innovations he came up, no matter how
"sudden" the insightful idea was, came from past and
present mental work. Like a singer who works at his craft for
ten years and then becomes an "overnight success,"
innovative people only have "sudden" flashes of insight
and new ideas because they have habitually worked and thought
in certain ways for some time. To become an innovative thinker,
then, why not start cultivating those mental habits?
Problems are opportunities. The concept of a "problem"
may have a negative connotations, such as being a hassle or stressful,
but any problem can lead to an innovation that improves our lives.
Not knowing the time lead to small clocks on our wrists. Disease
lead to sanitary sewer systems. Look for opportunity in every
problem. Even a mundane problem like not having enough storage
space in your home could lead to a new innovation. You might
just build a plywood floor in the attic, or maybe you should
invent a new type of outdoor storage unit.
Innovation starts with understanding the key elements. Wood
or metal or glass are not key elements of a door to an innovator.
An opening, a way to get in, a way to keep others out - these
are key elements. Start with these, and soon you're wondering
what other ways you can make a door. Could you design a door
that is opened by your voice (nice when your hands are full),
or one that shuts and locks itself when anyone else approaches?
Look for the key elements in things.
Attitude creates innovation. In the creative problem-solving
technique of concept-combination, you just combine two ideas
and see what new idea or product results. The key to the exercise,
though, is that you assume there will be a useful new idea. With
that assumption, you can be sure that your mind will work overtime
to produce something.
It may seem that a shoe and a CD have nothing to do with each
other, but it took just a minute to imagine a CD player with
headphones that only plays the music correctly if a jogger maintains
his ideal pace. Assume there is something there and you'll often
Play creates innovation. A playful mind is a creative mind.
High IQ doesn't correlate with creativity, but put it together
with playfulness, and you have an Einstein. Remember that he
imagined himself riding on a beam of light in order to arrive
at his theory of relativity. Why not start playing with things
and ideas, in your mind and in your surroundings. Innovation
should be fun.